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a boy’s values

I had a dream last night–I was so hurt and frustrated in the dream taking my conscious feelings into subconscious dream world. I have been in Colorado a year and one day now and it’s been a year of much karmic growth and soul turmoil. My ideas of people have been challenged this year more than any other year and I’ve indavertantly pushed lots of folks out of my life to try and please one person. Last week, I started spinning out and got in a few text wars and its always the same sentiment, “Shut up about him. You are so selfish.” Cheeks red, heart racing I try to stay vulnerable but feel the callous words rise and hiss out of my mouth.

I think I am selfish and I think that’s a choice I have made. I’ve always been frightened to have children because I don’t want to repeat trans generational patterns that I uncovered in my family and marriage counseling class. I think children have an excellent way of curing any selfish tendencies. Especially in women. That child is a part of a woman’s body for months and then apart of a woman’s life for years. I take so much time sitting and thinking on my couch, laying in my bed and thinking, thinking at work. Sometimes distracted, my world is small. It’s hard for me to engage in friendships because I get bored easily, I don’t give away trust readily.

Yesterday I went to go see waterfalls and found myself nostalgic and missing last summer when I passionately kissed the man I thought I might love underneath a waterfall. The trails, the rain, the snow, the town I live in–all memories of a person and time that defied me. We stood in Wal-Mart to shop for a camping trip where I refused to apologize. He had grabbed some reusable bags from the back of his car and a boat part came bouncing out. He immediately began to lecture me on how I need to take care of his stuff. But–you dropped it. But–I don’t know your equipment. I never stay in the car or his life for more than a few days at a time and have no idea what is packed where.

“I hate your flaws, and if you don’t tell me right now that you do, too, we are done.” Ahh constant threats of abandonment triggering childhood fears and I play along and find myself wanting to be berated as I squeeze ice cubes out of a tray and watch a few dissolve in the sink. Maybe I can let it all melt away. The first panic attack happened when he brought me around his friends. Even now, as I’m ready to understand what happened I’m self-conscious because all around me are so sick of it. I am, too. But, this has become my life. I wanted to try so hard to maintain a relationship that it became my sole focus. And I want to heal. After the tightening in my chest I made the comment “your last relationship only lasted because of your stupid Christian dogma.” How does one shift their values? How does one lose faith and gain peace?

Through texts, traditions, teachings, and doctrine, religious communities and institutions convey values and belief systems to their members. These are the teachings that he had brought to Colorado and walked away from in 2012. I, too, had lost my faith but it was back in 1998 when I was so, so mad at God. It’s only been in the past five years that I’ve returned to these teachings and let these values mesh with what I learned in courses on feminism, multicultural studies, being around environmentalists, philosophers, people who see the human connection outside of the tethers of religion. I couldn’t figure out why he would treat me the way he did. Sometimes, I would go along with all of it seeing him as a strong hero in my life–my only friend who I could talk about my deep ideas with. But, it was manifested as manipulation and as I was made fun of for a trauma response I felt helpless.

Religious doctrine contains many texts and teachings that encourage domination over women. “Wives be subject to your husbands as you are to the Lord. For the husband is the head of the wife just as Christ is the head of the church, the body of which he is the Savior. Just as the church is subject to Christ, so also wives ought to be, in everything, to their husbands” (Ephesians 5.22-24 NRSV). Either by its silence or its instruction, the church has too often communicated to battered women that they should stay in abusive relationships, try to be better wives, and “forgive and forget.” To batterers, it has communicated that their efforts to control their wives or girlfriends are justified because women are to be subject to men in all things. They have been permitted to “discipline” their wives and their children all for the “good of the family.” Christian history is filled with examples of church leaders justifying abuse of women by men. Church fathers like Martin Luther unapologetically described their own physical violence towards their wives (http://www.nhcadsv.org/uploads/vaw-rolereligion.pdf)

I’ve tried to make sense and find validation through friendships but the sentiment is always “well you keep going back to him.” Yes, I do have lots of fault in the unraveling and I’ve become this nasty, negative person suspicious of anyone that exhibits passive aggressive behaviors or talks to me in a way that triggers all the insults that have been lodged at me. I have this basic belief that folks are good, that they can move toward change. I read scholarly articles on mental health and abuse and had a shift last week in which I uncover in Bancroft’s writings that abuse is not a problem of psychology but of values and beliefs. And while not overtly said each fight came back to me–I’m the problem, I’m lacking humility, my thinking and reality are altered. These are all true within the context of the relationship. I know I’m risking a lot by trying to project my views of goodness and purity onto a world that is neither all the time.

Lots of domestic violence treatment programs last up to two years. It takes so much time to shift values and beliefs. I still cling to some of my outdated beliefs perhaps surreptitiously pushed into my head as Fox News played almost constantly in my childhood home. I start to google how to change ones values and it goes back to the awareness of values in the first place. I remember a car ride in which I stopped an insult in process and asked “Why do you think its okay to say that?” It stopped the meanness in the moment but was then brought up again later after peer consultation about how its okay for women to call men <insert name here> but men don’t have the same privilege. What I took away is that as long as the peers support the subordinance of women–its okay in the belief system.

I’m planting a garden today and took a run yesterday musing on how I would plant and then I saw some deer in a yard munching on grass and suddenly realized they might eat my garden. I have little shade so the little seedlings may get sunburnt. I feel that this first experiment might clarify my values. I anticipate a successful garden but don’t want to fall apart at its failure. I’ve decided to keep the whole thing as organic as possible and wonder how hard that might be. I will layer the mulch using the “lasagna garden” technique but wonder if I ought mix up the soil instead. So many fine details pass through my mind that I start to slow down to walk as I’m running to process all the factors. This garden is a process over years, over time, to hone awareness of my own growth process. I’ve made the choice to walk away from a man whose values I don’t admire and grow what I can instead.

Do people change? Yes–they do. It’s hard work that takes practice everyday and changing a core belief can change identity. You are no less of a person if you don’t raft all the rivers, climb all the mountains, bike all the downhills, ski all the slopes, earn all your turns. But folks sure do think less of you when you are self-centered, paranoid, indecisive, a complete loadie hidden beneath the fallacy of legal disassociation. I’m apprehensive to have written again on the subject but it gives me freedom to redefine my blame. Our values are very different. Living in the same culture we’ve clung to different ideas. I embrace my faults because I’ve come to understand that integration means letting myself acknowledge dark and light in my personality. Carl Rogers has taught me only when I fully accept myself in this present moment can I move toward change. I’m not sure if I’ve already said all these things, and I very deeply want off the merry-go-round. Until then, I will love, apologize, redefine, and make sure my beliefs create the peace I crave in my life.

“As I have explained in earlier chapters, abusiveness has little to do with psychological problems and everything to do with values and beliefs. Where do a boy’s values about partner relationships come from? The sources are many. The most important ones include the family he grows up in, his neighborhood, the television he watches and books he reads, jokes he hears, messages that he receives from the toys he is given, and his most influential adult role models. His role models are important not just for which behaviors they exhibit to the boy but also for which values they teach him in words and what expectations they instill in him for the future. In sum, a boy’s values develop from the full range of his experiences within his culture.”
― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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lighting up the eastern horizon

“Yeah, you seem to do better alone.” Yes, this is probably true and what is truer still is I do better without the person behind those words. I’ve had snippets of what I want last spring with a very nice firefighter.  Making bacon in a cast iron skillet in the morning and basting eggs in salsa verde. Drinking French press coffee and talking about our plans for the day. I didn’t realize how much snowmobiles work the core and I think longingly of my grad school days of private Pilates lessons and facials. It feels good to take care of myself, it feels good to be taken care of, its feels good to be here with him.

I’ve planted a garden this year. I water and talk to the plants twice a day curious as to why that tomato plant in the eastern bed is a little yellow in the leaves at the bottom. Garden talks are every Tuesday night but I crave my couch smelling of lavender and lemon oil I squish a pillow under my knees and start to google my thoughts crawling around like a spider in a sink.  Search one: what do I do if my partner can’t get over their ex.  Checking all the boxes I wonder if maybe the depression of losing a best friend could cause such nasty behavior.  Search two: am I an emotional abuser.  First article to pop up explains how it might feel that way fight after fight.

It’s hard to know exactly what I want in life and I reserve space to change my mind and grow into the woman that is underneath mean and defensive statements. I start to think about fall and my new role as an elementary school counselor. This is what I went to school for. In 2009 I started working in an elementary school with a very special little person and I would glance into the play room and knew this was what I wanted to do. To be completely myself around these little kiddos who make me laugh and smile so, so big everyday. “Miss Banks, you look like a rockstar! Miss Banks you are pretty and ugly at the same time.”  There is no holding back in the fall months and everyone falls apart at least once. Maybe we ought let this happen for all of us and enjoy the coming apart.

I wonder what I should do with my next summer off. I start to google Kripalu and yoga ashrams dreaming of eating vegetarian food, swimming everyday, and going deep into myself, my practice. Then, the other side of me dreams finding the perfect dog. Walk him (her) twice a day at minimum, water my garden twice a day at minimum, ride and run twice a day to shake out the spider thoughts. And then, I sit back and decide I’ll know when the time comes. I’ve not given myself much space to let my dream job status sink in. It’s taken quite a bit to get here and I don’t know that I’ve really ever recounted the whole story maybe because its mine–you’ll have to search for my process if I’ve not nervous and vomiting stories everywhere.

I feel extremely guilty at work for resigning. I feel my eyes move to one side or the other as eye contact becomes extremely difficult because I’m ashamed. I’m embarrassed. I’ve not really been myself starting out with a huge learning curve and trying so hard to mesh my ideas and theories of counseling with social work. How can I investigate and ask questions but still be non-directive. I haven’t figured it out. I may have not given myself enough time but I shake with excitement and watch goosebumps bubble up on my fuzzy arms when I think about developing a counseling program and resource room for kiddos. It will be safe. Piano, gardening, art, walks, unconditional positive regard, on my toes. This job means I get to be more myself.

I don’t know exactly what I want but I know what I don’t want anymore. A partnership is not making dinner with the exact items requested “an energizing salad” but letting whoever needs the salad make the darn salad. I want to be supported in my career–lets not let these solliquies go into the early morning hours while being told how the actor has worked on five hours of sleep. Yeah, I’ve worked with five days of no sleep. I want to be well rested. I want to be my most authentic version of myself. That’s bed at 8:30, rising at 4:30. Reading books at night and on the weekend. Walking with no headphones and noticing each flower and brush oak bush grow and change with each 24 hour cycle. Eating chicken from a bag or maybe I’ll even roast a whole chicken. I’m ready.

This whole journey has been such a wonderful time. I never knew Pagosa Springs existed and now I’ve got a beautiful home with a yard that I will tend to just like my heart. I’ve got a job I’ve been working toward for almost 10 years and I have a strong desire to rise to the occasion and I’m fairly sure I will. I can’t wait to try out community organizing, to infuse my social justice work into yoga and counseling lesson plans. I dream about becoming better at skiing, biking, running. Teaching spirituality Wednesdays and Sundays at church. Honing in on my own spirituality. I may be selfish, I may be alone, but I am not cruel and I am not lonely. There is nothing wrong with me the exact way I am.  I know I will unfold my self petals soon enough for that right storm cloud where the thunder is loud, the pines release their scent, and the whole sky lights up. My whole life has lit up.

 

“I only go out to get me a fresh appetite for being alone.”
-Lord Byron

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blue-collar sensibility

My Dad and I often fought because unlike the other kids in the house I would argue tooth and nail on principals I upheld—like I should be able to go out late because how else will I learn to make choices?  There was one particularly heated fight and I went downstairs to my room to blast whatever awful music I listened to at the time and Dad came tearing down the stairs and ripped the entire door off its hinges.  I simply glared at him over my book of poetry by Jim Morrison and said, “it was unlocked, jeez.”

Dad was the archetypal blue collar worker.  He wore one of his 3 pairs of Wranglers 30 by 32, a pocket shirt of which he had about 7, a brown worn leather belt, and generally a ball cap with some fishing logo or maybe the name of the mine he at which he worked.  He changed positions a few times working in the coal mine after starting out in a uranium mine in Douglas, WY.  He did a stint in the oil field—his father and two uncles had started “Triple B Energy” in Gillette, WY where they had learned the trade after some semesters at Texas A&M.

Uncle Joe was a self-made chemical engineer or “mud mixer” as its called in the field creating a concoction of chemicals designed to keep the walls of hundreds feet deep drill site from collapsing. Grandpa Loy was more of the talker and business man of the group, in his later life selling cars for a living showing off that Southern sweet talk and charm.  My other Great Uncle, Doyle, was less involved living in New Mexico working for NASA for the latter part of his life.  I remember him clearly, he was in a wheelchair.  When he was younger, he got polio and used plastic straws he kept in his breast pocket to type out his notes on a computer he had configured to fit his shriveled body.  I would become so angry when folks looked at him as we tooled around the southwest—he’s smart, don’t you know?!

Some 13 million Americans have managed to move from their blue-collar upbringing to a while-collar world and while class mobility seems to hearken to the American Dream and is generally applauded in the symbolic way—there are lasting consequences.  It must have been summer of my sophomore year or so and Dad and I were once again arguing on principal.  I had become more proficient at this during my college experience.  Disagreements were now an area of growth—I saw these talks as ways to try to open his mind to what I was learning at college—how to think in the grey, how to listen to all sides of a thought and use my own skills of deduction to formulate my world.  Dad became more and more frustrated and then eventually said out loud “you are wasting your time, you’ll never make as much as me.”  I had to let that statement sink in.  He might be right. But is that really why I was getting my Bachelors of Arts in English?  To make money?

My parents were able to afford to pay for my room and board the first year of college.  I lived in the dorms, Orr Hall, and still look back fondly on those years.  I met many life-long friends at the smokers bench by McIntyre Hall where we would meet before meals walking out of the cafeteria smiling with ice cream cones we would feed to the fat, tame squirrels that lived in the tall pines by Fraternity and Sorority Row.  I had managed to get a scholarship for 4 years of tuition as one of the top 5% of scholars in the state.  I hadn’t hardly applied to any colleges, much less done any scholarships.  Senior year was a time of addictions and moving in and out of my house.  This scholarship seemed like a fluke but I thought I better try it out—if nothing else than to prove my Dad wrong.

I may or may not make more than my Dad in my life—I feel myself headed there and am painfully aware of being the 10% here in Pagosa Springs—most of my friends in small business or the service industry working 2 or 3 jobs to pay rent in a place they live with several other roommates.  Then, there are the white collar retirees who the blue collar folks cater to—a nice restaurant here, $70,000 for a nice new overlook structure painting a portrait of a town that appreciates finer architecture and place where Texans might buy your art.  But, mobility here is highly unlikely.  The college nearby, Fort Lewis, has gained the name “Fort Leisure” and doles out liberal arts and education degrees with the promise of Straddler status—rising from the woods of Southwest Colorado to get a corporate job on the Front Range.  I don’t know if that even happens.  The salary may increase with education, but us blue collar folks may never speak the language of the privileged.

I feel a real sense of fragmentation sometimes.  Here I am, with my Masters of Science, which means something to me and meant something in higher education—the industry I recently vacated to try my hand at professional counseling.  I try to avoid the inevitable “when did you get to Pagosa, what do you do” talks because I feel hyper-aware of my self-imposed status.  I can hardly speak the nuances of a while collar existence but my blue collar roots seems to create suspicion as well.  I usually rely on the old geographical class mobility—oh I’m from Wyoming I’m a good ol’ boy (girl).  But I know secretly that if I comment on politics in a way that is non-polarizing—I might be shunned.  I’m not quite the liberal retiree speaking of Trumps evil, but I’m also not the conservative leaning fishing guide still obsessed with land ownership as another vehicle of hopping social classes.  An imposter in both worlds.

I didn’t walk in graduation for either my bachelors or my masters.  I didn’t know if my family would come.  And I certainly didn’t feel that they knew what I had accomplished.  From the outside, it may have looked like I spent 4 years drinking and reading poetry and then 2 years in my masters learning the language of empathy which I’m sure most homemakers like my Mom would attest is something that can be done in child-rearing.  I was the first in the family (in this generation) to achieve both degrees with a first cousin obtaining her law degree from Tulane.  We had done it.  But there are still certain things I won’t talk about if I ever were to visit Texas again and hit up the family reunion.  I won’t share my postmodern theories of classism, I won’t speak at length about racism, hegemony, or eco-feminism which I still use as a framework to view the world.  But these are the topics that set me apart and let me mingle with the white collar folks of academia. They just want brilliance and it can come from many different roots.

I think my Dad and I could argue because of the blue-collar existence.  We weren’t too worried about keeping up appearances.  I never remember one BBQ or dinner party hosted at my parents house.  My Dad has the same 3 piece suit he wore to church, weddings, funerals.  My Dad worked 12 hours shifts at the coal mine toward the end of his life, added to a 3 hour commute to get the mine 70 miles away.  When I was younger he would come home with black-coal eyeliner and his fingers dirty making me think he actually dug coal for a living.  Later, he would shower at the mine and the only evidence of hard labor was his pink-red eyes, slanted from the tiring physical work he had been doing his whole life.  A damn hard worker.  And so I still continue to work hard and grapple with my straddle status.  I have retirement, insurance, benefits.  But I still try to remember my roots and bear the load of paying for most of my education.  In theory I may have crossed social classes but in reality I will pay for my status forever.

“Social class counts at the office, even though nobody likes to admit it. Ultimately, corporate norms are based on middle- and upper-class values, business types say. From an early age, middle-class people learn how to get along, using diplomacy, nuance, and politics to grab what they need. It is as though they are following a set of rules laid out in a manual that blue-collar families never have the chance to read.”

-Alfre Lubrano, Limbo: Blue Collar Roots, White Collar Dreams

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the other way around

I walked away from her because she was too busy finding faults in me while I was too busy overlooking hers.  Constant negativity, blogging, arguing.  I remember the day I met her in South Fork.  I was running late, I’m on my own time really, like snow I come and go.  I picked up a hitchhiker because I’ve got the view that my heart is as big as a man-made reservoir in the desert, over-fished and filled with swimming teenagers.  I remember when I was a gangly teenager busy worshipping and preaching on the pulpit singing the promises of eternal life.  I still feel those steel beams that framed out my tall body and supported how I would treat women for years to come.

She got out of the car right away and didn’t make eye contact but started to pet the hitchhikers dog right away.  Dogs seemed to like her but I can’t help but want to pour out the words “dogs are ignorant, that’s how you fool them”  and now I know she fooled me.  I had read part of her blog and she had mentioned she has a past with addictions.  I was fascinated having just ended my 10 plus year relationship with a nice southern girl who sometimes drank too much, embarrassed me at parties “I’m just being myself” she would say but I was very focused on her behaviors that affected my image.  That self she created started to unravel as we saw other people and I made my theories of polyamory.  We reserved the right to love many people at once, to have so many princes and princesses to give all the love we had.

That love unraveling, this new girl finally looked up at me with big soft brown eyes but they just reminded me of my southern girl.  They both had the same personality type but I seemed to like this INFJ better than my ENFJ.  She was rare.  A new addition to my life of collected people, collected ideas, pieces of a puzzle of understanding put together in a way only I can see.  She stepped over to her trunk and grabbed some beers.  I felt a little shiver of surprise as I unpack my own thoughts on addiction.  Why can’t you just stop? Why can’t you just work harder?  I’ve always known myself to get what I want, to quit what I can.  A tinge of frustration crosses my furrowed brow when I think about the addiction of my ex-wife.  Cut off like flask of brown cheap whiskey from the hands of an old, trembling cowboy.  I still needed her to steady myself.

And here was this woman–she talked so fast and quiet I felt myself nodding and smiling half the time to carry on the conversation.  She had so much to say.  We drove up to a campsite and the hosts bumbled up on a golf cart and I kicked in the charm and grabbed on to the sweater string of my southern accent, unraveling a story about not knowing there was a fee in this area, and then asking questions about the weather, whatever cordial human conventions I have learned and studied over the years.  And she hopped right in, grabbing the threads of manipulation right along with me turning the thin cords into reigns of a chariot of lies with horses I would hear clomping into my life so many more times.  I was glad to have someone to hike with, glad for the distraction, I had no real intentions of real or genuine love.  I was already courting another woman in Texas.  I was carrying on with polyamory.  She fascinated me initially–a bit negative a bit intense but those wild, wild, horses didn’t scare me.  I would tame her.

She always harped on me for calling her a bitch.  I am soft-spoken, gentle, supportive.  I love the language of feelings and I openly share my insecurities, my fears, my emotional injuries.  My words are sprinkled with my thoughts of developing closeness, working out our issues and facing up to hard things about myself.  But, I don’t need therapy.  I’m not weak like that.  I don’t want to pay money–I’ve learned a lot in my life and I’m certain I know more than any shrink.  I feel like she made it her business to hurt my feelings constantly like a summer hail storm that just won’t stop, tearing the flaps of the tent of my heart beating down on the poles of my existence.  She was forever saying unfair and insensitive remarks.  Like how I stayed in my marriage because of Christianity or that my friends were ski-bums.  I love my friends and I love my ex wife.  They do what I need them to do.  She, she treated me with profound cruelty blaming me as if I was some kind of abuser.  You just can’t control me–that’s the thing.

She sometimes gave sincere apologies and would accept responsibility for being anxious.  Mentally ill.  Negative.  Explosive.  Always yelling.   I’ve learned her language though, that pop-psychology and I knew what she needed to let go.  Why can women call us assholes but I can’t call her a retarded bitch?  She really was, sometimes.  Seemed to lose her mind when I was just trying to help her understand.  I would tell her how the world works as she cooked, as she showered.  I just know about the world a little more.  I’ve gone through so much, I’ve achieved so many goals.  I grew her burden of guilt because so many things really were her fault.  She picked me apart showing me my rough edges that I kept rough on purpose.  I can threaten and intimidate to save my view of the world.  There are facts, there is science and I will not exist in the grey thunderstorm of her theories.  I found the trailhead of her self-destruction and went up, up not looking down at the swatch of destruction I left behind or her wounded at the bottom of the hill.

I’m against the macho men, so I couldn’t be abusive.  As long as I use a lot of psychobabble, no one is going to believe that I am mistreating her.  As long as I post memes about my innocence and find other mentally ill women to mentally and sexually validate me–I’m not in the wrong.  She said its not a good idea to dismantle the defense mechanisms of a client if they are working.  Well, hers weren’t working, nothing about her really worked.  I pointed that out.  I can control her by analyzing how her mind and emotions work, and what her issues are from childhood.  I don’t know much about her dad but I imagine her dead daddy issues kept her leaving with her push-pull like a carnival ride blasting classic rock and smelling of corn dogs and smokes.  I can get inside her head whether she wants me there or not.  Its important to be inside her head to dissect her irrational thoughts.  I am a critical thinker.  She just believes in horoscopes and energy. Nothing in the world is more important than my feelings.  She should be grateful to me for not being like those other men.

I am not like those other men.  I’ve done so many amazing things.  How can you limit it to one: Climbing the active Arenal volcano in La Fortuna Costa Rica. Snorkeling the blue hole in Belize on a multi day dive boat trip. Mountain biking the Leadville Mountain Biking Marathon in 10 hours and 13 minutes. Skiing 65mph and hucking big fast jumps at Wolf Creek Ski Area on my first season learning. Inflatable kayaking the exploratory run of the Weminuche Creek with less than 5 days on a ducky ever. Rowing a 14′ Custom Cataraft down the Class IV Piedra river, upper and lower box, with less than 5 days of rowing experience.  Don’t you see how special I am?  I’m an outdoor geek. I love boating, biking, camping, traveling, and techy stuff. I like tweaking stuff to be better than intended.   Just like I tried to tweak her.  I was just trying to make her better–she was not yet my equal.  When store-bought stuff often doesn’t fit me or my needs I love the challenge and reward of tackling and overcoming these issues by building my own custom solutions. I love pushing my equipment and my body toward their limits and analyzing the results later, usually over a beer and a bowl.

She wouldn’t let me push her to be a better version of herself.  I’m self-taught.  I can see through her six years of college.  I know more than her with just my associates in Welding/Fabrication at community college.  I don’t need professors or boards to tell me how very brilliant I really am.  I can see through her counseling license.  I’m just smarter.  Just better.  Her soft voice–just manipulation.  And so as she penned another letter to me about how much I had changed her life–I scoffed.  Words mean nothing and actions are everything and watching her shaking and wide eyed just made me laugh.  Negative bitch.  Creating her own drama exploding everywhere like a bloated bird eating any morsel of rice that validated her crazy behaviors.  I knocked on her door for twenty minutes because I am a caring man.  I went to her job to get her fired because I really care about the kids of Pagosa.  She should have apologized to all my friends for pointing out alcoholism, dangerous behaviors, mental illness, domestic violence charges, child developmental delays.   She needs to look at herself.  I never was, and I never will be, the problem.

 

“Immodest creature, you do not want a woman who will accept your faults, you want the one who pretends you are faultless – one who will caress the hand that strikes her and kiss the lips that lie to her.”

― George Sand, The Intimate Journal

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dark intellect

I have always trusted my brain.  It’s the one thing I can always count on.  I know I’m smart.  My parents thought I was smart and sent a weird red-bearded man to test my IQ in fourth grade.  I would become agitated that I was pulled out of class to be with a man who generally gave me the creeps.  He was a specialist I think, not a familiar figure in school and any interruption to my routine would distress my system but I always did what I was told.  That’s how God wanted it to be.  He asked questions about how I knew water was boiling.  Well because it bubbles, bro.  At the end of the cryptic visits I was pulled into the principal’s office.  “Jennifer, would you like to skip to 7th grade?” I was in fourth grade, about 5’9″ inches, fluffy black hair, big hips, and gigantic purple glasses.  God, no.  I’m a social pariah as is–I know that.  Please, no.

I stayed in the same grade and some of teachers didn’t feel I was living up to my potential.  My first “B” came in work ethic. Straight A’s in every other subject but more was expected of me.  I still don’t know my IQ to this day but clearly I wasn’t meeting the expectations of whatever that number proposed.  One day, the white bearded librarian came to our classroom to play a rousing game of chess against me while the entire class watched.  I wasn’t worried–Dad had taught me well and my patience and strategy didn’t quite get me to victory that day but a stale-mate that must of somehow reflected my place in the world–I was moving around my chess pieces in simultaneous offense and defense.  Smart enough to win, smart enough to not care.

Being intellectual is a gift.  I can think my way out of so many problems.  I can create a safe world in my mind and write stories of how my mind works.  I can mimic trauma in non-fiction.  I can metaphorically write about the details of my life connecting them to the bigger picture.  I see the nuances and also the bird’ eye view of life and philosophy.  I can contemplate God.  Somehow, I thought my intellect was a much stronger defense than it panned out to be.  I still have a hard time understanding some of the events that have happened in my life.   My brain was wired well enough to forget most of the bullshit.  This year my mind has turned against me and memories have come back.  Painful.  I thought I was smarter than that.

I walked into work one day and asked my co-worker who was a boxer about what happens when you get hit. I hadn’t been able to hear out of my right ear for four days.  During sex, my boyfriend had punched me so hard in the face I stopped being able to hear.  “It’s called boxers ear, Jen.  You should be fine.” This boyfriend and I were into some obscure shit.  We liked to listen to heavy metal and muse in our anti-social tendencies.  One time I lit a marijuana pipe red hot and pressed it into my thigh.  I asked him to choke me until I would almost pass out.  In the world of sex–these were not off the beaten path.  Folks have kinky sex way more often than we want to admit.  This was, for the most part, normal sexual behavior.  But, I didn’t ask him to punch me.  I didn’t know he would punch me.  He hurt me on his terms.  Weeks or months later, who knows, I ran sprinting back to my house after he had dumped me on the side of the road.  I ran and ran to get back to safety and the door came swinging open.  He would always find me.

My Dad died in 2008 and it fucked me up really bad.  I choose the words I am saying and fucked up isn’t strong enough.  My world imploded.  My true north ceased to exist.  I shacked up with a guy who’s name I can’t even remember.  I didn’t even remember he existed until this year.  Back in the college days of drinking and debauchery bars would often make special glasses for mixed shots–i.e. like a Jager bomb.  Plastic shot contained within a glass where Jager would go and then surrounded by Red Bull.  I don’t know how it all went down but I remember my nose and mouth being covered by the giant hand of some strong iron-worker from Arkansas as he watched my eyes turn red.  Before I passed out I smashed the pink plastic cup into the side of his head and felt the small plastic bits crumble in my hand.  Goddamnit, I was going to survive. I fell asleep next to him on an air mattress that night waiting for my inevitable arrest because he had choked me out again while I was driving a few days before.  Third DUI, second violent relationship.  Where the fuck was my brain.  How could someone so smart be so stupid.

This summer I met a very nice guy with whom I felt very connected.  He was long and lean and didn’t mind my quirks and didn’t seem to want to humiliate me during sex or choke me for no reason.  I am so desperate for love that I crave any attention with someone who sees my brain.  He saw and appreciated my intelligence and I felt we could play chess and talk of our family dynamics forever.  I attach to folks so strongly, without a daddy.  Without any role-models of healthy relationships.  He became my world as I had moved from my home in Wyoming where folks didn’t care I was burned, kicked, punched, choked probably because I had forgotten any of it had happened.  I was called Crazy Jen for so long I figured that’s what bitches like me deserve.  Shit talking.  Dirty looks.  Sometimes, the crazy went in my favor and back in the day I would get free drugs as long as I did them intravenously in front of the dealer.  See me fucked up.  See me with no brain.

All these memories came back in a hotel room in Canon City, Colorado.  “You are so fucking damaged, Jen.  I feel sorry for you.”  Ahh shit.  He was right.  I was damaged.  I didn’t remember those events that had happened.  But I deserved them, right?  I lashed out in anger when I was attacked.  When I was told that I wasn’t going to be in someone’s life because they didn’t want to have a “crazy girlfriend” I knew they were right.  I made someone burn me.  Punch me.  Choke me.  My crazy brought about violence in others.  I was playing this game of chess to the best of my ability and I was letting folks down. That fourth grade class of blank eyes stared at me and watched me falter with every move.   My work ethic was a “C” at best.  I wasn’t trying hard enough.  I was being lazy and smart and should be in the 9039320th grade of relationships, not the second grade running away every time I was called a stupid bitch.

This is what is so hard.  I’m smart.  I’m kind.  I’m a counselor.  I was a victim’s advocate for years.  But, these things still happened.  I still let into my life 3 very violent men who intimidated me.  Who physically abused me.  Who emotionally degraded me.  Yet I still see this as my fault.  I know I’m mean and cruel but I know what has happened to me.  I didn’t make it up but that’s also shady to me as well.  How could someone forget being punched, burned, kicked, and choked?  How could someone with so much sense end up in hotel room after hotel room being told what a horrible piece of shit I am?  How could someone who had been to the emergency room several times with sexually assaulted women end up in the snow one snowy night in February 2017 shaky and scared calling the police to please, please don’t come out because in Colorado in domestic violence calls, an arrest is mandatory?

I am doing the very best I can.  I just submitted a $960 bill for therapy starting in January before that cold February night when I remembered some childhood beatings that I still doubt. Because I trust my brain.  This brain has gotten me scholarships, offers to skip grade levels, exemplary marks on standardized tests, its reasoned its ways out of these places.  I still don’t know if I believe any of this was abuse.  I’m just a strong-headed, weird, negative, and perhaps hard-to-love person.  If I was sweet and kind in spirit as I feel in my mind then I would stop this cycle.  The only thing I want today is to call any one of these men to come over and embrace me and then tell me what a fuck up I am.  Yes, yes, second in words what I feel in thought.  I am fucking retarded, I am too much to handle, I am not worthy of a faithful man or of someone to sleep next to at night.  My brain has been hard-wired for torture.  Whether it be self-torture of this entire blog or of the words of any man who I’ve held dear telling me of my inherent worthlessness.  I think, I feel, my brain can no longer be trusted.  That knot in my stomach was right.  My sweaty palms, my hunched back.  My body knew what was about to happen.  But how could I leave the very thing that helped me to survive?  I can leave these men but how can I leave my mind?

I played chess the other day and struggled hard to explain how it’s played.  It’s through tact.  Foresight.  Observation.  Strategy.  Patience.  Willingness.  I think I can say I have been a victim of abuse.  But I won’t leave that statement at just that.  I have been a victim of my own mind thinking I was exempt from shitty relationships.  I am a strong woman with strong trauma and these two do not want to tango.  I received minimal support in this last abusive relationship and am pretty sure I was seen as the problem.  I get nasty in intimacy because intimacy means I will get fucked up.  So I give myself some grace.  But I have very little grace for how I acted in defense of my well-being.  I am still trying to live down some ruined relationships as I existed in months being told how I was the cause of any problem that happened in my life or in his life. So, I write this shit down to let it go.

I think I can trust my brain again.  Its thinking in terms of case conceptualization and in clinical terms to help my clients.  If I look to my own case I see many trauma responses.  I see a childhood of dysregulated emotions and an adolescence of numbing and substance abuse that stunted my emotional growth.  I see a 7th grader who really should be in 4th grade and is doing her best to fake it until she makes it.  Those things did happen.  And this time I will not let my mind forget.  I will nurture my mind to connect to my body and feel the violence before it happens.  I might not ever say out loud I was abused.  But I will write it down and think on what could be different.  Who I can choose next.  And eventually I will find the peace I need to once again feel proud of my brain.  The body part that just might save me, the organ that fires even when I’m asleep.  I am smart.  I am alive.  I have survived.

“Has he ever trapped you in a room and not let you out?
Has he ever raised a fist as if he were going to hit you?
Has he ever thrown an object that hit you or nearly did?
Has he ever held you down or grabbed you to restrain you?
Has he ever shoved, poked, or grabbed you?
Has he ever threatened to hurt you?
If the answer to any of these questions is yes, then we can stop wondering whether he’ll ever be violent; he already has been.”

― Lundy Bancroft, Why Does He Do That?: Inside the Minds of Angry and Controlling Men

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high plains, high desert

The sky here in Alamosa, Colorado can sometimes feel so incredibly close yet so large, a giant glass fishbowl full of bushy desert plants and fine sand swirling around, piling at the bottom of a mountain.  Mountains are in all directions, optical illusions creating some to appear small as they curl their bottom lip of switchbacks and raise high eyebrows full of summits and passes treacherous in winter as snow that never sees the valley beats down on the chest of the high places.

 

The bowl of the San Luis Valley becomes soaked as irrigation and veins of water fed by the Rio Grande collect snow of mountain tops becoming all but dry in summer.  Rain becomes a welcome sign that miracles can happen in the desert and rainbows can form amidst the backdrop of peaks and valleys of Mount Blanca. The landscape and sense of place could keep me here for years as I begin to understand weather patterns and hear from the folks how the weather fits into their lives.

 

I don’t really know why I left Wyoming.  I know why I left Gillette–to go to college.  And I supposed I left Laramie for the same reason–to go to a different college.  I went looking for opportunity and here I found diversity in the short time I have been here. I become aware of myself as I observe my surroundings to try to understand how to be serve, really how to best empower those around me to serve themselves. I do not know what is best for those in the valley and it’s nice to become learner once again.

 

Some things change and some remain the same.  I travel with lavender oil and rub it on the foreheads of Coloradoans now and I teach yoga to students at this college campus.  I wonder about the prospect of taking the mobile model of yoga I started in Wyoming and try it out here.  How can I weave in the fabric of place through the stories of the people?  I suppose I can start by leaving the house.  I plan trips to trails and dream of backpacking trips up fourteeners but feel some tiny bit of flesh and bone is terrified while the spirit is bold and so I remain cautious.

 

I heard someone talk about the religious or spiritual connotations of the San Luis Valley.  Every religious figure or prophet spent some amount of time thinking about stuff in the desert.  The mountains provide a prompt to think about stuff in the desert and to slow down.  The fishbowl of the valley allows for integration in twenty minute intervals toward towns spreading out like petals from the Alamosa center.  I have arrived.  And will be here now in the high desert of Colorado nodding my head to the high plains of Wyoming.

 

“Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”

 

-Terry Pratchett, Jingo

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chicken wings 

My blogs have been scarce lately which usually means I’m doing super okay just chugging along with no existential strife to whine about, or I’ve given up on something I know I’m good at to head into survival mode. I’m surviving, baby. 

I’ve been researching my personality type like crazy (even though the research shows its often flawed) because it’s the best validation I can get for being the person I am. It’s so silly how I internalize things with such gusto I feel like the negative thoughts become a knot in my tummy, a cloud over my head, a tightness in my chest. I’m scared of this little anxiety baby gestating inside of me. I often try to name this red-faced feeling that comes over me like I’m in 3rd grade and I’ve peed in my plastic school chair. I feel so little. 

Lately, I can’t identify anything I’m good with or at, or anything I feel good about. In writing this sentence I’m like welp that’s a classic depression diagnosis if I’ve ever heard one. But, it’s not that, or I don’t want it to be that. I have meaning. I exercise. I meet goals. I eat healthy. I engage in service work. I think it’s the experience of growing up and seeing my own insignificance in the world, the ever present existential crisis that takes up much of my critical thought. I am not a student services professional. I’m not an adjunct college professor. I’m not a yogi. I’m a grain of sand, a speck of dust, a mound of flesh.

I try to find the special life glitter, the allure, the feeling of a kiss with someone who’s energy is like liquor to the soul. But those special moments aren’t there. They come fleeting in the completion of a ten mile run, or a smile from a child, maybe a really good meal or the way the sky looks in Wyoming. Perhaps because I cannot see it I can talk of it and I seek out folks who I know will go there in deep conversation and the universe keeps sending the message—it doesn’t matter. None of this matters. Stop dreaming of glitter and rip up some tin foil. Life is what you make it. 

I feel like a burden to folks around me and set up this awful cycle where I need so badly to be alone and with myself during the times I’m not at work where I’m constantly around people. I need some time to seep in the people, let the people tea leaves steep in the water of my mind before I can slowly consume the tea. This is meaning, this is how I process life. But when the time comes to be social or let someone into my life—I am all alone. I marvel at folks with roommates or in volleyball leagues or those who go shopping or camping in more than groups of two. I feel my mind go into a tiny world war at the thought of being more social and yet the war continues at the thought of feeling so very alone.

This blog won’t end with some shit about how it will all get better or pray to gawd and receive solace because I know both these things to be true. They will help. I also know that shit might not get better and I could turn my back on gawd and wouldn’t matter. This is the critical mass, the point, where I can choose to create meaning or choose to know whatever meaning I create is inherently meaningless. Fuck it. I’m eating chicken wings. 

“No matter how many years you sit doing zazen, you will never become anything special.” ~ Sawaki

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spiritual vomit

I spiritually vomited all over myself last week.  I felt the panic and fear come on Monday and I ran out of my house to get away from my trembly dog who shows me my own anxiety through ear flapping and panting.  Running away in shame knowing that my frantic energy has affected him but these are the moments I spin out and cannot take any outside stimulation.  I feel out of control, triggered, scared, like a child.

I joke about this workbook I scribble in here and there designed to help me with my self-esteem.  Shit gets better every day but I still feel my cheeks burn when I’m told—you’re intense, you are too much, you intimidate me, you are loud.  I internalize all these things but I’ve always been big and loud and would come tramping up the stairs in my childhood home singing or speaking languages that might have been just of our family clan.  We would yell, giggle, the neighbors commented on our loudness.

We all sang and had rituals like most families I’m sure.  Some of my favorite memories are the songs we made for our pets. Our three legged dog: “Tripod—no bipod, he is a friend of mine.”  Or our black sleek lab mix Albert: “Ali-berto gentille Aliberto, je te plumerai.”  Then there was our sheep dog Buddy who we would provoke by making the letter O with our mouths and wailing up and down, up and down so he would sing with us.

These things did not seem weird or intense or intimidating as a child.  As I find myself interacting with children, much more rarely than I wished, I find that they are the most accepting of me.  They even appreciate my weirdness, my intensity.  They know my intentions without my having to say so they know I still speak the language of un-nuance, of simplicity, of utter straight forwardness. And they speak straight forward to me, sometimes in a cheek burning way—Miss Jen you are sometimes pretty but sometimes not pretty at all.  And I say thank you because all I see is not pretty at all.  And so I scratch in the self-esteem workbook.

I don’t understand some of the unspoken rules of the adult world and have professionally crippled myself numerous times—in school, at work.  Anxiety is supposedly rooted in low self-esteem and in my tradition of receiving high marks, I’ve got A’s in both.  I think every day how I know I’m intelligent but if folks are too intimidated to listen, let go of that achievement.  I can listen to NPR but I still sing nursery rhymes in the shower.

I used to get pretty stinkin’ drunk to deal with who I was because in drunk world, Crazy Jen (the name I obtained for myself in my asshole years) was accepted that way.  People found it fun.  I was a pretend extrovert, the life of the party sliding around drinking fellahs under the table watching them vomit beer as I challenged them to shotgun contests.  Slamming my car keys into aluminum, drinking, drinking, hoping someone would stay until the sun came up and I became my true introvert self so we could talk about books and God.

I will vomit again I’m sure.  Maybe beer, maybe this confusing stream of spirituality but sometimes it’s not too bad to have the warm insides come rushing out, to feel the relief and release of pressure that builds constantly in a world that isn’t ready for my vibration.  Lou Dog, who has many songs and phrases, will continue to show me when I’m off the ol’ rocker and then the choice Is mine to act on the fear or to laugh at myself and use the mantra I heard a child say this week–I am what I am.

“All art is a kind of confession, more or less oblique. All artists, if they are to survive, are forced, at last, to tell the whole story; to vomit the anguish up.” 

-James Baldwin

 

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wal-mart yoga

I ran into a friend last night and a few folks knew me from my work teaching yoga. I was able to talk out loud a bit about how I see western yoga as cultural appropriation and perpetuating classism, racism, ableism, extroversion, hegemony, and all other sorts of atrocities that we silently ignore in the modern American caste system.

Let me clear this up before I dive into an opinion piece: I do teach yoga. I do teach meditation. I call myself the “Wal-Mart of Meditation” for a reason. Yeah Wal-Mart is messed up, but I don’t have the privilege NOT to shop there. Most folks I know don’t. I didn’t plan it this way, but I am very particular about where I teach, who I teach for, and how I teach. In the 4 years I’ve dived into this spiritual realm, I’ve learned a few things about myself and yoga.

The first is—I doubt I will ever teach at a boutique brick and mortar studio again. I’m not a business person, hardly a capitalist, and would not ask others to do what I cannot do myself. I cannot afford an $18 yoga class. In 2009 when I got out of jail after several DUI’s, I had nothing. Some fellah at the soup kitchen gave me $20. The last thing I was going to do with that money was walk over to a studio to be confused by Sanskrit, incense, and a person who is trying to tell me everything is love and light. Bullshit. I just got out of jail and have no home. Life will never be all love and light so we can all surrender that fantasy.

Secondly, I hope to always teach at a community college. In my years of teaching I have NEVER encountered a person of color in a brick and mortar studio outside of one instructor and one teacher in training—both privileged socioeconomically. In my classes at the community college, I’ve had men and women of color, non-english speaking folks, folks with disabilities, folks struggling with obesity, children, teenagers, deaf and hard of hearing folks, folks who I let in because they could not pay, felons, drug-users—you name the area of marginalization and I’ve been able to recruit at least one person to try it out.

Before I prepare my speech for social justice lady-face of the year, let me relate that I, too, am a part of the appropriation of yoga. I am in the space of privilege. I am the subject that relates to the object of yoga. I’ve bastardized the heck out of yoga (i.e. Walmart Meditation) I’ve copied elements from a minority culture and these elements are used outside of their original cultural context—sometimes even against the expressed, stated wishes of representatives of the originating culture.

I do not take communion in a Catholic church. I do not attend Mormon seminary. I do not pray with Muslims. Why do I think it’s okay to teach yoga when I know nothing of Hinduism? Because—it’s all I’ve got. I want to show folks that the light exists so they can choose their lamp. I know I do not know the right way to do anything because the only right way is the authentic way in one’s own skin. That will look different for everyone.

I can reduce the harm be being aware of the roots of the practice, and giving credit where credit is due. I can respect and honor the religion of Hindu and the Eight-Limbed Path by shutting the fuck up when I enter a sacred space. I can become more sensitive to myself and others through intentional practice. I will have to practice my whole life because it will not end with a headstand, heck, it won’t even end in this life. It is important we understand what yoga is and why it was created so we can honor the practice, others, and ourselves.

“Do your practice and all is coming.”

― Sri K. Pattabhi Jois

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cracks and stripes

Sitting in the plush couch across from Asian decorations staring at large red plates and sticks of bamboo creating geometrical patterns and shadows creating the backdrop as I relate the geometrical patterns of my life. I blandly tell my counselor how life is a dream, a projection, a fuzzy version of reality. A veil has dropped. Maybe it dropped a long time ago. I watch the plot, the characters, the scene, the story line with only mild interest. Mostly apathetic.

A familiar story for the thinkers, the depressed, the analyzers. Life a dream. Waves of light, color, emotion, people. A familiar story for those in trauma. Unable to fully open up to life undulating between numbness and extreme pain. I’ve told my story a hundred times and it’s really nothing special as folks die and individuals reinvent themselves over and over again, purifying in the fire. In each reinvention, the dreams, the disassociation becomes greater and greater and I go to matching lengths to ground down, to find the soil of my existence once again.

April 25th, 2014 a friend hung herself and I once again sank down, went deep, and struggled to decide on the appropriate response, the appropriate way to be with myself, to be with the world. And so I ran. I went into the physical body and the breath for stability, balance, to let the power of my thoughts dull in the burning light of my physical being. On Pole Mountain every day, moving slowly over rolling hills stopping to smell, take pictures, dance, stare at the sky, stare at the ground, and sit in the mud. I would bring friends, we would bring drink, I would bring drink alone. Playing with that point when the substance can enhance physical awareness and open up the senses to deep experiences while dulling the mind just enough to justify the tall bullets of barely pop.

I let go of expectations for myself. I walked away from the holistic practice of yoga doing only what felt good—run, lift, stretch, drink, sleep. I would push myself at times but found in the letting go of the practice of yoga I was able to truly practice yoga through direct experience, an opening up to the trails of life, the trails of my own veins. I felt like a crucible with ashes in my belly, appearing like clay but red hot on the inside. And so I buried myself in the cool ground to recalibrate what this all might mean and how to find my meaning.

On the trails, during the runs in forward motion and in the tiny catches of slowing down, I begin to see the patterns of nature. The times, ways, and slopes where the wildflowers grow. The ripple of the snow from the way the wind blows, the creak of the trees, the sound of thunder near and far. I begin to feel the sunrise and sunset and anticipate in some familiar way what to expect in this place and on these runs. The weather becomes a part of my system the breeze my own breath.

It becomes harder and harder to come back and to see the patterns in others’ behavior, the same patterns of nature. Only to know the patterns will not be seen. They are obstructed, fuzzy, blended with lies on the part of the person who has not yet accepted his or her own behaviors. They do not see what I see, and this is just perception, this is just human nature. They are not who they think they are. I am not who I think I am.

On the hikes of the human mind, I feel the wind of thoughts, the dark clouds of brooding, and the creak of the heart. Anticipating the seasons of the soul from unspoken words and intense observation I feel the sunset coming knowing that it may go unnoticed, go unfelt. It does not matter. All experience, good or bad is grist for the mill. Fuzzy, painful, manufactured, in nature, all a path to spiritual growth, a way to God.

“Sometimes I reason my life is a hideous illusion, and I dream of disappearing into the wilderness, leaving behind my past, my present, and all plans for my future, the hustle and bustle for a materialism I care little for, propaganda, politics, phonies, and all the patterns I’ve encountered from their words unspoken, that alert and alienate me to believe that this surely wasn’t meant to be my playground.”

-Unknown